Review: Homebaked at Royal Court Liverpool ****
Everyone loves a David and Goliath story, a tale of the little person’s triumph over ‘the man’. And surely everyone loves a pie?
So it’s a winning combination – not to say recipe – to bring them together in a story that’s not simply heartfelt and uplifting, but has the extra advantage of being true.
And Homebaked, the Anfield Community Land Trust and brilliant bakery, and the ideas and passion that underpin its existence, is a worthy subject for this new musical from Boff Whalley of Chumbawamba fame.
Whalley and his regular collaborator, Red Ladder director Rod Dixon, have crafted a show that’s a rousing celebration of community over conglomeration and pastry over profit, and one that’s full of hummable tunes and catchy choruses augmented by the presence of a community choir of extras – not surprising from the man behind the ebullient international hit Tubthumping.
Mitchell’s bakery is closing down and there’s a demolition order for this tinned up corner of Anfield. But the council is outflanked by a small gang of disparate residents – and outsiders – who band together to take back their neighbourhood ‘brick by brick and loaf by loaf’.
They’re led by Pauline Daniels’ determined Annie, her Evertonian son Tony (George Jones) and, crossing the great divide, Paul Broughton’s Shankly-spouting Red Frank who becomes the unlikely master baker with wide-eyed Widnes ‘wool’ Dylan (George Caple) his willing kitchen sidekick – a Toby to Frank’s Mrs Lovett, albeit without the murderous pie fillings and sticky end.
Homebaked the Musical. Photos by Jason Roberts
Spurred on by Steph Lacey’s colourful German conceptual artist Astrid – a larger-than-life representation of the ideals that also underpin the Turner Prize-winning Granby Four Streets, and with support from Eithne Browne’s numbers woman Rita, the ambitious plans to save Anfield take shape.
Meanwhile Liam Tobin, always so watchable, revels in his role as the physical manifestation of big bad steamrolling authority. His oily council official Colin drops in at key moments to threaten the endeavour – until of course he himself has (ahem) an e-pie-phany.
Whalley says when he started writing Homebaked the first thing he did was look up jokes about pies, but he’s been careful to use them sparingly in the script, gifting most of them to Howard Gray’s Trevor who appears at intervals to break the fourth wall and share deadpan gags with the audience.
The action unfolds on Olivia Du Monceau’s fold out bakery set, while Whalley’s big tunes – which emerge organically from the dialogue – are given oomph by the band hidden behind a torn poster promise of ‘regeneration’.
There is also a discernable nod to one of Whalley's musical heroes, the late Neil Innes, in some of the lovely softer numbers.
At times it feels a little bit homespun, and occasionally the script teeters on the edge of speechifying.
But Homebaked the Musical is also sincere, thought-provoking, optimistic and entertaining – a tale of liberté, égalité, fraternité…and pastry.